The Good, The Bad, and The Neutral: Alcohols in Beauty Products

Consumers are becoming more educated about what’s in their products. They’re looking for products that claim to be oil-free, paraben-free, sulfate free etc. One of the big ingredients we’re told to steer clear from are alcohols.

But are all alcohols really bad?

You may have read tips in beauty magazines or on beauty blogs to occasionally rinse your hair with a heavy beer, like Guinness. The reasoning? It’s packed with fatty alcohols (also known as fatty acids). Fatty alcohols are unlike the rubbing alcohol that’s harsh and drying. In fact, fatty alcohols are good for your hair and skin. Nourishing it and making it more soft and supple.

So how the heck are we supposed to know what’s a good or bad alcohol? Unless the label touts alcohol-free, we simply don’t know (and, do we really want alcohol-free, if some alcohols are actually beneficial?).

Here’s a list of some of the most commonly used alcohols (good and bad) that you’ll find listed verbatim under the ingredients label of your products. So now you don’t have to rely on a company’s marketing to tell you if it’s alcohol free.

Bad alcohols:


Ehtyl alcohol


Alcohol Denatured

SD Alcohol

 Note: SD Alcohol comes in many variations that made number ands letter following the SD Alcohol (ex: SD Alcohol 3-A, SD Alcohol 40 etc.)

Good alcohols (fatty alcohols/fatty acids):

Cetyl alcohol

Cetearyl alcohol

Sterearyl alcohol

Benehyl alcohol

Arachnidyl alcohol

Myristil alcohol

Lauryl alcohol

FYI: Benzyl alcohol is often listed amongst ingredients. This is a preservative. With respect to it’s actions on skin or hair, it is a neutral compound that neither benefits nor hurts your skin. If you’re looking for a more natural, preservative-free product, however, then you’ll want to avoid this.

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